Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Tara (Buddhist Deity) - (Suryagupta, 21 Taras)

སྒྲོལ་མ། སྣང་བརྙན་ཡོངས། 度母(本尊)(全像)
(item no. 60681)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1300 - 1399
Lineages Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Peaceful

Gender: Female

TBRC: W25346

Interpretation / Description

Tara, Green (Tibetan: drol ma jang ku, English: the Green Liberator, or Saviouress). The composition is composed of five iconographic elements: [1] Three Deity Tara, [2] the Five Buddhas, [3] the Twenty-one Taras of the Suryagupta Tradition, [4] the Eight Taras Removing the Eight Fears, and [5] Miscellaneous Deities and Donor Figures. The composition follows a Guge, Western Tibetan, painting style. (This painting is comparable to two other early compositions on the HAR website: #68897 and #88656. See all images of Tara and the Twenty-one Forms according to the tradition of Suryagupta in a single composition).

"On an eight petalled lotus...is Holy Tara, reddish-green in colour, one face and two hands. The right [hand] is in the gesture of supreme generosity and the left holds with the thumb and ring finger a lily to the heart. Wearing beautiful jewel ornaments and various silks, the hair as a crown, seated in a posture with the right leg extended and the left drawn up. On the right [side] is orange Marichi holding in the left [hand] a branch of the Ashoka tree. On the left is black Ekajati holding a skullcup in the left. Both hold in the right [hands] a fly-whisk; adorned with jewels and beautiful silk clothing, with the two legs placed equally in a standing manner." (Thartse Panchen Namka Chime, early 19th century).

Dark green in colour, Tara has one face and two hands. The palm of the right hand is in the gesture (mudra) of supreme generosity holding the stem of a lotus - blossoming at the right ear. Held to the heart, the left thumb and forefinger hold a blue utpala flower, blossoming at the left ear. Peaceful, smiling and youthful she is adorned with flowing silks of various colours and jewel ornaments, gold tiara and the like; seated with the right leg slightly extended in a relaxed manner and the left drawn up atop a moon disc and multi-coloured lotus seat. She is surrounded by an elaborate 'torana' topped with a Garuda bird. Behind and above Tara is an idealized rocky landscape and trees. Adorning that are the Five Buddas, starting at the left: Akshobhya, Vairochana, Amitabha, Ratnasambhava and Amoghasiddhi.

To the viewer's left is Marichi, yellow, with one face and four hands, wearing jewel ornaments and beautiful garments. To the right is Ekajati, blue-black, also with one face and four hands, having three eyes and a slightly fierce expression, wearing a tiger skin skirt. Both attendant bodisattvas are in a standing posture.

The top and side registers of the painting contain the Twenty-one forms of Tara according to the system of the Kashmiri mahasiddha named Suryagupta. The first in the set is located at the top left.

The textual list of the Twenty-one Taras of Suryagupta and numeric hierarchy: 1. Tara Very Heroic, 2. Tara Radiant White Moon, 3. Tara Golden Coloured, 4. Tara Crown Ornament of the Conqueror, 5. Tara Resounding with Hum, 6. Tara Victorious Over the Three Worlds, 7. Tara Defeating Adversaries, 8. Tara Treasure of Supreme Power, 9. Tara Bestowing Wishes, 10. Tara Dispelling Sorrow, 11. Tara Clearing All Misfortune, 12. Tara Auspiciously Shining, 13. Tara Completely Ripening, 14. Tara With a Frown, 15. Tara Treasure of Virtue and Goodness, 16. Tara Destroyer of Attachment, 17. Tara Accomplishing Happiness, 18. Tara Greatly Increasing, 19. Tara Burning Suffering, 20. Tara Giving Rise to Attainments, 21. Tara Accomplishing the Complete Perfection.

In the two side registers, towards the bottom of the composition are the Eight Taras Removing the Eight Fears: (1) water, (2) lions, (3) fire, (4) snakes, (5) elephants, (6) thieves, (7) false imprisonment, and (8) ghosts.

The bottom register contains miscellaneous deities beginning on the left with Namsangiti Manjushri, Chaturbhuja Avalokiteshvara, Krodha Vajrapani, and possibly followed by Vajrasattva and Yellow Jambhala. The identification of the last two figures is not certain. Assembled on the right side is a Lama figure, a shrine, and devotees representing the donor of the composition.

The back of the painting has three basic inscription types. First (1) are the three letters, OM, AH, HUM, written in black for each of the figures depicted. The three letters represent the enlightened body, speech and mind of the deities depicted on the front of the composition. The letters are written in Tibetan but represent the three Sanskrit language seed syllables (bija). This is followed by (2) a mantra of general blessing, the Tara mantra and finally the 'Ye Dharma' mantra or Mantra of Dependent Arising, written in Tibetan letters but the words remaining in the Sanskrit language: Ye dharma hetu prabhava hetum tesham tathagato hyavadat tesham cha yo nirodha evam vadi maha shramanah svaha. The third (3) type of inscriptions are basic prayers written and composed in Tibetan language, some standard, and others specific to the commission. There are no donor or artist's names mentioned.

All three inscriptions are quite standard for blessing or sanctifying a painting. The only difference between paintings such as this and others would be the specific mantras of the central deity. These would be replaced with something more specific to another central subject of the composition or to the tradition commissioning the artistic work. If the central subject were a Shakyamuni Buddha then it would likely have a Shakyamuni mantra and possibly a prayer. If the central figure were a historical figure such as a teacher then the inscription would likely reference the figure and in some cases translate the Tibetan name of the individual into Sanskrit.

(Inscriptions at the top of the stupa: om sarva vidya svaha. om tare tuttare ture svaha).

(Inscriptions at the vase level of the stupa: om vajjra garveye svaha. om supratishta vajre svaha. om ye dharma hetu prabhava hetum tesham tathagato hyavadat tesham cha yo nirodha evam vadi maha shramanah svaha. om ah hum).

(Inscriptions of the five steps and square base: bzod pa dka' thub dam pa bzod pa dam pa ni. mya ngan 'das pa mchog ces sags rgyas gsungs. rab tu byang ba zhan la gnod pa dang. gzhan la 'tshe ba dge sbyong ma yin no. om ah hum).

(bla ma sangs rgyas dam pa rnams kyi thugs dgongs gong nas gong du rdzogs par mdzad du gsol. rgu. sbyor ba yon gyi bdag po 'gon gsal pha spad mi phyugs 'khr dang bcas dang sems can bla na med pa yang dag par rdzogs pa'i byang chub rin po che thob par mdzad du gsol. phrin las rnam dag sku gsung thugs. sten yon ta rgya mtsho ma lus pa bzhengs pa rnams la byin gyis brlobs. sten mchog tu gyur ba'i kra shis shog. rgyur sbyor ba yon gyi bdag po la gnod pa med pa dang. chos la dga' zhing khrag pa med pa dang. dbul 'phongs zhi zhing skyid pa'i bkra shis des kyang bde legs shog kra shis shog).

According to Vajrayana Buddhism Tara is a completely enlightened Buddha that typically appears in the form of a beautiful youthful woman sixteen years of age. By category and hierarchy Tara is a Meditational Deity (yidam) and her appearance is that of a peaceful deity which is synonymous with Devi and Bodhisattva Appearance - one of the Eleven Figurative Forms in Tibetan art.

Tara made a promise in the distant past that after reaching complete enlightenment she would always appear in the form of a female for the benefit of all beings. She especially protects from the eight and sixteen fears and has taken on many of the early functions originally associated with the deities Avalokiteshvara and Amoghapasha. Practiced in all Schools of Tibetan Buddhism Tara, amongst all of the different deity forms, is likely second in popularity only to Avalokiteshvara. Meditational practices and visual descriptions for Tara are found in all classes of Buddhist Tantra, both Nyingma and Sarma (Sakya, Kagyu, Gelug).

The most common forms of Tara are the green which is considered special for all types of activities, white for longevity and red for power. The different forms of Tara come in all colours, numbers of faces, arms and legs, peaceful, semi-peaceful and wrathful. There are simple meditational forms representing a single figure and then there are complex forms with large numbers of retinue figures filling all types of mandala configurations. There are likely to be close to two hundred different meditational forms of Tara.

Jeff Watt 7-2012


Numbered Image:

Yellow Numbers:
1. Green Tara
2. Marichi
3. Ekajati
4. Akshobhya Buddha
5. Vairochana Buddha
6. Amitabha Buddha
7. Amoghasiddhi Buddha
8. Ratnasambhava Buddha
9. Manjushri
10. Avalokiteshvara
11. Vajrapani
12. Vajrasattva
13. Yellow Jambhala

Green Numbers:
1. Fear of Fire
2. Fear of Water
3. Fear of Lions
4. Fear of Elephants
5. fear of Snakes
6. Fear of Imprisonment (?)
7. Fear of Ghosts
8. fear of Robbers

Blue Numbers:
1. #1 Tara Very Heroic
2. #2 Tara Radiant White Moon
3. #3 Tara Golden Coloured
4. #4 Tara Crown Ornament of the Conqueror
5. #5 Tara Resounding with Hum
6. #6 Tara Victorious Over the Three Worlds
7. #7 Tara Defeating Adversaries
8. #8 Tara Treasure of Supreme Power
9. #9 Tara Bestowing Wishes
10. #11 Tara Clearing All Misfortune
11. #13 Tara Completely Ripening
12. #10 Tara Dispelling Sorrow (?)
13. #14 Tara With a Frown
14. #18 Tara Greatly Increasing
15. #15 Tara Treasure of Virtue and Goodness
16. #17 Tara Accomplishing Happiness
17. #16 Tara Destroyer of Attachment
18. #19 Tara Burning Suffering
19. #12 Tara Auspiciously Shining
20. #21 Tara Accomplishing the Complete Perfection
21. #20 Tara Giving Rise to Attainments (?)

(The identification of the first nine forms of Tara are clear. A number of the forms of Tara from ten to twenty-one are very difficult to identify. Several of the identifications are based on the process of elimination and educated guess work).

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Buddhist Deity: Tara (Suryagupta Tradition)
Buddhist Deity: Tara, Twenty-one Taras (Surya, Single Composition)
Painting Style: Guge Kingdom (Western Tibet)
Subject: Suryagupta (Twenty-one Taras Single Composition)
Buddhist Deity: Tara, Twenty-one Taras Main Page